More U.S. states leaning on teachers

Teacher

(MoneyWatch) With an increased focus on the performance of the nation's public schools, a growing number of states are scrutinizing the effectiveness of their teachers.

Thirty-five states, along with the District of Columbia, now require that student achievement be a significant, or even the most significant factor, in teacher evaluations, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates for teacher reforms. Just four years ago, a mere four states required evidence of student learning to be the most significant factor.

"The teacher evaluation landscape has completely transformed over the last several years, which is a step in the right direction," said Kate Walsh, president of the NCTQ, in a statement. "States have made huge strides in improving evaluation designs so that student learning is front and center."

Despite this shift, the NCTQ observed that most states are not using these evaluation tools to improve teacher performance in classrooms. Until the dots are connected between teacher evaluations and policies that encourage better teacher performance, Walsh noted, "We will be missing the point of teacher evaluation and selling teachers and students short."

Teacher reform leaders

In its report, the NCTQ made sure to applaud the states that are taking what they've learned from teacher evaluations and implementing policies to make teachers more effective. Louisiana is at the head of the pack and is followed closely by Florida and Tennessee. The NCTQ also commended Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

In contrast, the report noted that the following 10 states do not have any formal policies that link teacher evaluations with objective student achievement: Alabama, California, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas and Vermont.

Some additional findings from the report:

Annual teacher evaluations. Just four years ago, only 15 states required annual teacher evaluations, but today that number has jumped to 27 states and the District of Columbia. 

Layoffs. Just 14 states with ambitious evaluation policies require districts to use teacher performance to influence decisions about which teachers would get laid off. 

Ineffective teachers. Most of the 25 states with ambitious teacher evaluations specifically require that teachers with poor evaluations must participate in an improvement plan. Twenty-two of those states have policies that ensure that persistent classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for a teacher to be fired. 

Teacher pay. While 10 states are heading towards teacher performance pay, only Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Utah and the District of Columbia directly tie teacher compensation to teacher evaluation results. Some teacher supporters have been critical of tying pay with student results for fear teachers will lose their jobs or forfeit pay increases. 

Teacher training. Only three states with strong teacher evaluation programs use them to place student teachers into classrooms with excellent teachers.

NCTQ is not without its controversy. It released a report this summer that concluded that most teacher preparation programs in this country are doing a poor job of training new teachers. Critics blasted the report as biased and unscientific, while others also have accused the group of pushing remedies that are friendlier to business interests than to the goal of improving education.

"There are many reasons not to trust the NCTQ report on teacher education," wrote Diane Ravitch, a prominent education scholar at New York University, in a blog post. "Most important is that it lacks credibility. Not only is it not a professional association. It lacks independence. It has an agenda."

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